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Translating political intent into on-the-ground action

COP28 has arrived. As governments prepare to find common agreement on how to tackle climate change, they will be lobbied by many groups seeking to influence the final decisions. Over 70,000 attendees are expected, representing governments, multilateral organisations, civil society and the private sector.

Among the attendees, Seyni Nafo will serve as the spokesperson on behalf of the African Union’s Group of Negotiators. He brings over a decade of experience advising governments during climate conferences, from the Copenhagen Accords to the Paris Agreement. Seyni is also the coordinator for the African Adaptation Initiative as well as Vice President of the Shamba Centre for Food & Climate and a Hesat2030 Champion.

Expectations for COP28

From the war in Ukraine to the geo-political situation in Gaza, governments are under pressure.

“These events, which are on our doorstep, are reducing the momentum we need to secure a political agreement during COP28. These difficult times are diverting both financial resources and political energy,” Seyni said.

Yet he remains an optimist.

“We can exploit the opportunities that we have built over the year. The gains that we will capture during COP28 will be based on the work that we have already achieved. There are several areas where I am confident that we can transform opportunities into concrete gains,” he notes.

These areas include enhancing renewable energy in Africa and accelerating the delivery of the Loss and Damage Fund. Africa is rich in renewable energy resources such as wind, hydropower and solar, which can be used to power energy-intensive sectors such as agriculture.

“The Loss and Damage Fund needs to be capitalized and operational. We are pushing to identify the modalities for this to work,” Seyni explains.

Moving towards action

The United Arab Emirates has placed agri-food systems on the unofficial agenda for COP28. Their Declaration on Resilient Food Systems, Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Action serves as a catalyst for increasing investment in agri-food systems as a solution to climate change. It paves the way for strategies that concurrently enhance resilience, lower emissions and address food security.

However, Seyni has sufficient experience to understand that words do not necessarily translate into action.

“We need an entry point and I appreciate this beginning. However, for a drip irrigation project using solar pumps in a village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we need more than words. We need a project design and the mobilization of resources,” he explains.

For this reason, Seyni believes that we need to anticipate the next steps and secure their implementation.

“The Declaration captures the political will. Now we need to lay out the next steps to translate this political intent into action and positive results.”

Agriculture, food security, and innovation

Seyni recognizes the economic importance of agriculture in Africa which employs between 50-60 percent of the population and represents 30-40 percent of the GDP in many countries. Yet, as he notes, agriculture is much more local and granular than other areas.

“While you can sit in Geneva or New York and build a power plant adapted for an African country, agriculture is much more localized. It needs to be addressed at the national level,” Seyni explains. “We need those who understand the local context to participate. And, from the local level, we need to be able to scale up. Right now, this is inadequate.”

Yet financing food system transformation remains a problem. As Seyni notes, loans and funding are not reaching those who need it.

“How do we align these numbers? Agriculture has not been de-risked and uncertainty remains high. For this reason, it becomes a safer bet to import food rather than to produce it locally.”

Climate further exacerbates these risks. With higher temperatures, agriculture must confront unpredictable weather patterns, humidity, and rain variabilities which often lead to lower production yields. For Seyni, however, the solutions can be found in innovation.

According to Seyni, “Innovation is key. In Africa, it is a reality that innovation is essential for survival. Agricultural innovation is needed in many areas – from finance to technology.”

Examples include the use of AI technology to map weather patterns, the installation of drip irrigation to ensure water supplies, as well as the availability of micro insurance to shield against weather variabilities.

Seyni calls on civil society to identify areas for innovation. For him, mapping the ecosystem can help policymakers understand the activities underway at the community level and identify opportunities. According to Seyni, NGOs are well placed to provide a mapping of innovation given their knowledge and activities across diverse systems – from nutrition and agricultural production to climate and finance.

In his role at the African Adaptation Initiative, Seyni understands the importance of pan African experiences that can be shared.

He notes: “Africa can learn from Morocco and South Africa who are leaders in food production, or Kenya given its experience in horticulture and tea. The knowledge is available and we need to collaborate and provide training within the African continent. Let’s focus on African leaders first.”

“My job as an aggregator is to identify those partners and provide a single resource with solutions to the many problems we face for food security and climate resilience.”



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